Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Go Blonde for the Day!

Blonde Brownies make an excellent lunch treat.

I have never made a blonde brownie before today — National Blonde Brownie Day

I mean, what is the point of taking the chocolate out of a brownie? Or at least, that's what I figured the thought process would have been. In fact, several sources on the Internet mistakenly claim that the blonde brownie is the confectionary offering for those people who are allergic to chocolate but would like to have a brownie. Not so.

According to old cookbooks and other resources, blonde brownies (also known as "blondies") predated chocolate brownies, though under different names. The so-called blondie actually came first, probably before the turn of the 19th century. Whereas chocolate brownies didn't become widely popular until the 1920s, when chocolate and cocoa powder became more readily available. By the 1950s, butterscotch or vanilla brownies were described as "blonde brownies," underscoring the primacy of chocolate.

Most people have the ingredients for the most basic of blondies in their cupboards. Brown sugar, butter and vanilla, combine to give blondies their caramel-esque, butterscotch-y flavor. It is said that the secret to great blondies is mixing them with a wooden spoon. Blondies have the same crackly tops and delightfully chewy, rich and dense bodies as their chocolate counterparts, but they boast a warm, golden hue. Blondies are simple but satisfying, and make the perfect treat to tuck into lunch bags or serve as an after-school treat. 

Blondies can be embellished with a variety
of ingredients, such as dark chocolate.
Although they are delicious in their most basic form, blondies can take on a certain sophistication too, depending on what you add to the batter. Variations include cinnamon, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, toffee bits, walnuts, pecans, coconut, cherry-almond, white chocolate chips and, for a very grown-up treat, even bourbon (for Drunk Blondies). 

Recipes for blondies abound in cookbooks and on the Internet. I chose to follow the recipe developed at Cook's Illustrated, where they are known for testing and tweaking recipes for optimal results. The recipe called for a 13x9-inch pan, but I decided to make three variations in disposable, aluminum 6.5x4-inch pans. I made plain, chocolate chunk and blueberry (since I had some dried blueberries on hand, I figured, why not?). I sampled each one — for research purposes! — and they are each delicious in their own right. 

So, go blonde for the day by baking this buttery, golden confection that has been overshadowed by the brownie for more than 50 years. You won't be disappointed (and you can always toss in a handful or two of chocolate chips!).

If you missed National Brownie Day, click here.

Cook's Illustrated Blondies
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c light brown sugar
1 1/2 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 13x9-inch pan with a parchment or foil sling and coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Blondies three ways: chocolate chunk, plain & blueberry.
In a medium bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not over-mix. Fold in any additions and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula. 

Bake until top is shiny, cracked and light golden brown, about 22 to 25 minutes; do not over-bake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Blondies can be stored, well-wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.

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